Grudge Match: Rocky got Wrinkly…

The question some might be pondering going into Peter Segal’s latest movie, about two boxers ending their three decade retirement to settle an epic sporting feud, may be “But, if I wanted to see a couple of pensioners beat the botox out of each other surely just placing the winning bingo slip onto the floor of an LA retirement home would more than suffice?” While this elaborately phrased rhetorical question may indeed be an accurate description of the films final showdown surely you wouldn’t want to miss out on its finer selling points i.e. the gently predictable comedy, Stallone’s “I just pooped a little face” when trying to conjure up any emotion more strenuous than mild confusion and montages more arthritic than a one shot film of your grandparents constructing Ikea furniture. Its fair to say Rocky is back in business #YouSlyDog.

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This is the happiest day of my life

Stallone is a revelation, testing new waters and stretching himself to his thespian limit, as Henry “Razor” Sharp an um… past his prime boxer on the comeback trail. Pumped full of what appears to be bull hormones and preserving salts Sly delivers speech after spine tingling speech, philosophizing on unrequited personal glory, lost love and finding himself with all the emotional range and conviction of an extra in a toothpaste ad. So while Stallone may still be ploddingly, plying his trade, the supporting cast are universally solid and enthusiastic with one of the true greats on a return to form in his opposing corner.

De Niro sporting a physique reminiscent of Monsters inc.’s Mike Wizowski and the athleticism of a diabetic walrus appears to be having a great time as Billy “The Kid” McDonnen with much of the films, if not all, its success being owed to the pudgy pugilist. With the occasional face creasing smile or brilliant bout of comedy improv the Bobby D of old shines through and Jon Bernathal is perfectly cast as his estranged son with a matching broken nose and wry sense of humor, while the grandson will have you cracking up and wanting to eat your own face in equal measure with his unintentionally hilarious and simultaneously infuriating dialogue delivery.

Kevin Hart, brimming with more energy than a labrador puppy on speed, is wise cracking fun as the duos sleazy yet lovable promoter although his decidedly one track comedy does start to grate after the fifteenth “White people?! Am’I’Rite!” joke. However the rapport between him and Alan Arkin’s urine soaked boxing coach remains chuckle inducing throughout.

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An hour in and a punch had yet to be thrown

Like Harts comedy originality isn’t Grudge Match’s strong suit as every available cliche is shoehorned in to swell the running time from it’s rightful duration as a 5 minute SNL skit to a creaking 2 hour bout of Stallone self-parody. The direction is equally uninspired, aside from a surprisingly exciting final fight sequence; in which rapid fire editing is used to great effect, cutting after single punches to create a sense of momentum and drama as well as to disguise the tea and Cash in the Attic breaks that clearly ensued.

Grudge Match draws a number of parallels with Project X. In terms of shit-tasticness and star rating conundrums that is, you’ll find no topless bouncy castle montage here (cut out due to age restrictions and a member of the test audience feinting in the pre-screening). While “X” targeted teens looking for cinematic wish fulfillment Grudge Match shamelessly panders to the nostalgia fueled older crowd searching for one last hurrah with their onscreen heroes. But uber-derivative cash grab or not I had a great time watching my two on screen heroes lay into each other like a pair of wrinkly windmills. So if, like myself, you go in with ankle level expectations and an innate fondness for Stallone’s weatherbeaten steak of a face you will too.

5/10 stars

Pan’s Labyrinth: Not Your Average Fairytale

If you came to Pan’s Labyrinth expecting a charming fairytale in bucolic Spain then you better buckle up because you’re in for one traumatic ride. With a narrative more layered than a genetically enhanced super onion, and twice as tear inducing, Guillermo Del Toro’s 2006 cinematic effort brands itself on your memory banks and refuses to fade until several group therapy sessions later.

The film is set in 1944 in rural Spain, during the beginning of the end for Franco’s fascist regime. The story follows Ophelia as she travels with her pregnant mother to the country home of her military captain step-father in preparation for the birth of his son and her half-brother. Before she can even finish unpacking, Ophelia is enticed down a disused well by a fairy-insect hybrid before being told she is the Princess of the underworld and that she must prove her innocence before claiming her throne. If all this sounds like the familiar story troupes of the fairytale genre think again. Any whimsical elements of Ophelia’s tale are quickly dispelled by the accompanying, bloody narrative focusing on a Spanish rebel groups fight for freedom against an oppressive regime as well as the ill-fated members of the Captain’s inner-circle that try to aid them. Oh and Vidal, the Captain, turning a man’s face into a cup holder with an empty wine bottle in the first 10 minutes of the movie also went some way to dispelling the fairytale cliches.

The movie as a whole is brilliantly crafted boasting both skillful, measured direction and uninhibited imagination. The editing and cinematography subtly reinforce the theme of two opposing worlds, ethereal fantasy and brutal wartime reality, as scenes of Ofelia battling Del Toro’s wondrous brain creatures are seamlessly blended with shots of fascist soldiers patrolling the nearby woods for freedom fighters. Everything feels damp, earthy and at times deeply unsettling as Guillermo reminds us of his horror movie roots by providing the audience with more “don’t go in there moments” than a drunken hernia operation.

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Ophelia wasn’t sold on the new morph suit design

Ophelia, played by Ivana Baquero, with the bravery of a bomb disposal worker who wrestles sharks in her spare time and the innocent naivety of, well, a twelve year old is captivating in the leading role, even if at times her actions do make you cringe harder than your Gran’s thoughts on immigration. The rest of the cast are all solid in their respective roles, with two particular, movie making, stand-outs. Doug Jones is fantastic as the world’s creepiest and creakiest faun and terrifying as the famous Pale Man, think Stallone when his Botox and steroid supplies run dry. Seriously, having watched him play Abe Spaien in the Hellboy movies Jones’ talent levels could only be upped if it was discovered he spent his spare time juggling live honey badgers and bringing peace to the middle east.

But the true show stealer is the monstrous Vidal, played by Sergi Lopez. The Captain’s transition from a vaguely intimidating, grumpy grease ball into a terrifying fascist robot death machine is sudden, brutal and one of the films most memorable moments. The progressively more violent and sadistic actions of this Spanish terminator aim to reinforce one of the key themes of the movie, this being that all the saggy skinned child eating monsters and Ann Widdcombe look-a-likes in Del Toro’s fantastical mind hole are nothing when compared with the evils of man and the brutality people are capable of.

Pan’s Labyrinth does have one major flaw however and that is the criminal underuse of the incredible fantasy world that the title and many of the early scenes had promised. Instead the, very worthy, but decidedly generic human conflict takes centre stage and by the time the credits had started to role I felt teased and cheated of a movie that had shown the potential to be truly great, but failed to quite live up to it’s early promise.

Pan’s Labyrinth is a stunning, though-provoking film, and despite being a little fantasy set-piece light, is a gothic, and at times grotesque, high-point of Del Toro’s career that’ll rob you of more sleep than a needy newborn and keep you thinking long after its over. 8/10 

Project X: The Game Changer… well, not really

A drug fueled montage of tequila, rogue twerking and midget rage… but enough about my Tuesday nights, on to the review.

Project X is a simple film. It sets out with a tried and tested premise, a century old “found footage” directing gimmick and a single aim; to have a seriously good time, whether you want to join in or not. And good lord does it succeed. The film follows a day in the life of 3 socially awkward friends, determined to change their bottom of the food chain school status by throwing a county wide birthday bash. Needless to say things get wildly out of hand, but with a premise this revolutionary the film couldn’t help but be great, right? Well, yeah actually, it sort of is. The cast are headed by a pre-pubescent Jonah Hill (not actually Jonah Hill), a sentient lizard man (solid actor, one to watch) and Tony Sopranos sexpest nephew (knob).

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The war for the sweater vest had gotten out of hand

The film plays out like a 80 minute long music video on acid; sporadically interspersed with the kind of set pieces, ranging from sleep inducing to eyebrow singeing, that seem to have been the product of a stoned Sunday afternoon brain storming session between director Todd Philips and his dog.

Project X may indeed lack the remotest iota of focus or originality but it does succeed in capturing the pre-party combination of tense excitement and expectant nerves while introducing some pretty thought provoking concepts along the way. “Will anyone show up?” “Will the party be chill?” “Is my blimp sized best friend going to eat all the snacks?” These are just some of the burning, universal questions that it boldly asks – truly a film for our times. The moral of the narrative, if I was pushed to search for one, would probably be that destroying your house, car and much of the surrounding neighborhood is all worth it for 15 seconds of vague acceptance from a group of near strangers who you’ll almost certainly never see again, and you know what? I was totally onboard.

While it may be more repetitive than a Mormon fashion show this movie got me feeling excited and party ready, that is, of course before the adrenalin drained away and the depressing realities of my pizza box and red-bull can strewn surroundings killed my momentary buzz.

This is one of those films that really deserves two ratings, with an argument for it being placed at both ends of the star spectrum. The narrative is more predictable than J-beebz’ latest album, there’s better character development in your average supermarket advert and at times the movie looks like it’s been filmed on a toaster but if you push past those significant drawbacks and decide to dive straight in, grab a fistful of ecstasy and join in the body shots (metaphorically speaking) the film is plain, addictive fun.

5/10 stars

Hanna: Wright and Ronan, Together again

“HANNA”, the 4th feature film of Joe Wright’s impressive career, is similar in a number of ways to its central protagonist and namesake i.e. it’s unexpected, FREAKIN INCREDIBLE! and… um… strangely attractive. Ok so maybe I’m stretching the comparison between the movie itself and its main protagonist a little far but it doesn’t change the fact that this remains, in my humble blogger opinion, easily the greatest achievement of Mr Wrights up till now stellar, but samey, career. HANNA is quite frankly pure unadulterated, often disturbing, fun. It’s clear from the opening, in which an Arctic based Hanna (Ronan) shoots a deer in the face before having a brutal fist fight with her animal skin clad father figure, that this is not going to be another awkward Victorian ankle flirting and drawing room bitch fest that some may have come to expect from Wright, director of “Atonement” and “Pride and Prejudice”.

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Eskimos don’t take kindly to cameras

Surprisingly enough the film focuses on Hanna, a 16 year old, multi-lingual, single minded killing machine and her unending pursuit for revenge for the death of her mother.

The film’s frenetic, asthma inducing pace is introduced at the beginning and doesn’t slow throughout somehow managing to combine an array of face meltingly awesome fight and chase montages with tender at times revelatory character development. This is helped in no small part by Ronan’s startlingly effective as well as convincing portrayal of a teenage assassin stuck between being a child and a robot like death dealer with a penchant for turning people into human kebabs.

In fact its unfair to give all the acting credit to Ronan, however great she was and however huge my nerd crush for her is, credit must go to pretty much every member of the cast each giving standout performances and all worthy of a cavalcade of unnecessarily elaborate adjectives to describe their individual character portrayals, with a personal favorite being the heroically creepy Isaacs or “Sandman” played by the ever reliable and in this case eye opening Tom Hollander, lets just say I won’t be getting much sleep tonight.

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DisneyLand Siberia needed some work

However the two greatest aspects of “HANNA” as a whole were more technically focused, these being the cinematography as well as the shot composition making nearly every shot simply look like it should be hanging in an art gallery. HANNA’s visuals truly stick in your mind long after you’ve switched off your TV and, in my case, gone foetul on the floor from sheer sensory overload. The second of these feats of technical wizardry is of course the mind blendingly, seizure inducingly glorious Chemical Brothers soundtrack helping to give each scene its setting, emotional charge and drive as well as beating half of your senses into bloody submission, causing some serious emotional numbness for sometime after viewing. Just listening to the soundtrack now I’m having to intersperse it with “The Archers” omnibus just to balance out adrenaline levels.

Despite a slightly lazily un-concluded family side story and a lack of any kind of moral amongst the continuous waves of stylized violence this is one of the most cohesive, exciting and technically dazzling thrillers I’ve seen in a very long time.

Maybe it’s the fact that my brain was turned into a puddle of Ready Brek by the relentless score but I’m feeling generous 8/10!

Written March 2012

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1: Fun with Harry and friends

Alright I have to admit the title of this post is a little on the misleading side. Firstly this film is most definitely not fun or particularly enjoyable for the most part, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was “The Road” with wands but it was only a few house elf deaths away. And secondly the “friends” part isn’t entirely true as it seems everything with a pulse and fists wants nothing more than to beat 7 shades of wizarding shit out of Harry and then feed him his glasses.

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Both were trying their hardest not to mention the dandruff

So it’s rapidly established in the opening seen in which a brutalized teacher is fed to a giant serpent by the pasty faced Lord Voldemort that this is by far the darkest Harry Potter film yet. This being the darkest Potter adventure yet it may in fact appeal to a wider and more mature age bracket satisfying a larger audience as a result whilst managing to entertain pre-teens through the virtue of being a “Harry Potter” movie, although whilst Harry may never mainline heroine into his eye balls I wouldn’t recommend this to your toddler.

Deathly Hallows is also one of the best Potter films so far, now thats not setting the bar too high we all remember the steaming pile of goblin shit that were the previous 5 or 6 films. Its director (David Yates) has improved massively from his freshman magical endeavor, making for a visually compelling and at times genuinely breathtaking film, taking advantage of the army of helicopters at his disposal. The huge sweeping nature shots and gorgeous landscape filming is a geography teachers wet dream.

The relationship between the three friends is also delicately developed and there personalities seem to stretch beyond their previously allotted stereotypes of no it all nerd, incompetent ginger funny man and that weird kid with glasses. Harry and Hermione’s friendship is further developed in a brilliant, emotionally fragile dance sequence which is as touching as it is cringey. The group is also now more ridden with teenage angst than a particularly emotional episode of “One Tree Hill” and you’d need a magically enhanced chainsaw to cut the overwhelming sexual tension between Ron and Hermione. Despite the relationships of the foremost three protagonists being handled so effectively nearly the entire supporting cast of characters are either given an occasional token line or totally forgotten.

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Garlic bread had been a short sighted lunch choice

The chemistry between Harry and Ginny is similar to that of two chairs stacked on top of each other and the acting for the most part remains monotonely(it’s a word!) dreadful with various lines being delivered with all the emotion and charisma of a tiger woods apology conference. However despite the dismal acting on some parts others are still terrifyingly brilliant, for instance Ralph Fiennes remains spine chillingly frightening as “he who shall not be named” although I maintain he would be as creepy without the Michael Jackson treatment. Dobby is still perfectly realized and will as usual either have you wanting to give him a cuddle or reaching for something heavy to throw at the screen.

However even with the occasional fun filled appearance of Dobby and Voldemort and the brilliant location shooting the hugely unnecessary running time of over 2 and a half hours took its emotional toll. Especially as the story can drag on like a determined marathon runner who’s legs have fallen asleep and in order to fully appreciate the vast quantity of Harry Potter in jokes you’d have to have acquired an either encyclopedic knowledge of everything Potter or have aggressively revised the last 6 books the night before.

Although despite feeling soul crushingly bored and confused in places, like a disoriented puppy with a short attention span, I had gotten my Harry Potter fix for the day and I’m looking forward to the final adventure of everyones favorite four eyed rascal.

6 out of 10 It’s magic… sort of.

Written December 2010

Law Abiding Citizen: Fun for all the family

Let’s get straight to the point. “Law Abiding Citizen” ain’t gonna win any Oscars. It is a morbid and deranged train wreck of a movie, and most definitely not on screen fun for the whole family. It’s a crime, thriller saturated in a large helping of gore and dismemberment.

Rapidly transitioning from the heart warming scenes of ultra-violent rape/child murder(not simultaneously thank God!) to the delightful sequence of Gerard Butler, on delightful form, brutally torturing his family’s killer to death in his own lakeside workshop, striking an uncanny resemblance to Jigsaw’s holiday home.

Genuinely the opening scene couldn’t have broken more taboos unless a puppy had been shot in the face and then used as a football. It makes the change from “aaaaw isn’t she cute” to, OH MY GOD that doesn’t go there!? within a matter of seconds, which when you think about it is quite impressive, and the worst part is you don’t even care.

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In his defense the bracelet was very interesting

The opening scene is so incredibly short that the character development of the wife and child is non-existent and the audience have no time to become emotionally invested in these protagonists or begin to care about their impending fate. All you know, is the little girl is cute, the wife is… um… a woman and Gerard Butler our hero seems like a vaguely likable bloke, that is, moments before he’s, abruptly, hit in the face with a baseball and his entire life and soul is raped and murdered before his very eyes.

So a delightful opening to progressively more light hearted film.

And the characterization sadly doesn’t improve from there, with not a single likable protagonist emerging, each failing to inspire an ounce of sympathy from the already emotionally cold audience.

Jamie Foxx is the slimy lawyer bastard, Gerard Butler is the depressed, grieving bastard who quickly transforms into the psychotic murdering bastard and the remaining characters are lifeless filters whose sole functions are to fill out the ranks of fodder characters and spout lines of pointless throw away dialogue, oh and did I mention they were bastards.

Foxx’s character alienates the entire audience with his less than ethical actions within the first five minutes making Butler’s character the sole relatable protagonist.  However as Butler’s protagonist swiftly descends further and further into a vengeful, psychotic rage, in which he brutally murders anyone who didn’t so much as open the door for him, all original sympathy for his protagonist’s heart wrenching predicament rapidly deteriorates, the last of it vanishing in a particularly gory scene involving a “spork”, a gourmet meal and his cell mates face, I’ll leave the wrest to your imagination.

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They could take his freedom but they’d never take his smile

Sadly the direction and script are disjointed, confused and uninspired, the dialogue conveying the sense that it was the product of a marathon brainstorming session by a group of crime movie addict teenagers who are desperately going for shock value over substance.

And sadder still it’s as boring as an all day old folks bingo session where the only prizes are a pat on the head and another round of bingo. Who’d have thought that a cat and mouse crime thriller, with extra gore, in which the mouse constantly mind fucks the cat could be so soul crushingly dull.

The vaguely searching ethical questions asked, and not followed through, by the various characters only help to emphasize the extent of the douchebaggery undertaken by the main protagonists and remind you of how much you already dislike each one of them in the first place.

The final scenes and death sequences steadily escalate in violence and lack of realism, with each attack becoming progressively more ludicrous than the last, until the only way for the final death to up the scale of ridiculousness would be to have Jamie Foxx beaten to death by a clown with a giant cheese string.

Ultimately “Law Abiding Citizen” is a generic and pedestrian crime thriller, devoid of personality and originality, and one who’s case file you wont want to be opening any time soon.

2/10 stars  The “Law Abiding Citizen” deserves life!

Written December 2010

The Town: I’ll See You Again this side or the Other

Easily one of the best action movies of 2010 and possibly the best heist movie since Michaels Mann’s balls to the wall cop thriller “Heat”, with which it shares more than a few plot details.

From the brutally fast paced, ear-drum shattering opening sequence featuring a brilliantly directed and seemingly realistic bank robbery, in which Affleck has evidently invested a great deal of research. The break neck speed never lets up, except for breif moments of delicate character development and sentimental dialogue, which are brilliantly handled and perfectly balanced by the way.

Those who thought that “Gone Baby Gone” was some kind of one off, beautiful accident, like the night you accidentally walked into your friends mothers bedroom, will have to eat there bitter words. Who’d have thought that the man who brought us the hideous (I just threw up a little) Gigli and Reindeer Games could have created and starred in a film as entertaining and genuinely thrilling as The Town.

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Mittens was coming down from the tree… one way or the other.

The Town is set in Charlestown, Boston and contains a variety of set pieces so exciting that half way through the final shoot out I was surprised my heart didn’t burst out of my ribcage and start frantically tap dancing on the seat in front.

The second heist in which there is a frantic, tire screeching car chase through the narrow back streets of Charlestown, is a five minute long cinematic laxative. The chase is so tense that after several minutes of frantic chewing I was surprised I had any hands left let alone finger nails. Affleck uses “Bourne” style shakycam shots, where the camera is so unstable the cameraman must’ve been a spontaneous tap dancer in desperate need of a wee, and various helicopter shots to give a sense of the claustrophobia and tension of the robbers desperate situation whilst never forgetting the geography of the chase.

However none of the action would truly be as gripping, the shoot outs as heart wrenchingly tense if it weren’t for the glorious performances by the entire ensemble drawing the audience in like a brightly coloured sweet shop draws in a fat kid with ADH.

Ben Affleck has recovered from the horrible, HORRIBLE performances of recent years to deliver a great piece of acting, taking on the role of onscreen emotional anchor, aaah pretentiousness is fun, and making his character, Doug Mcreel, sympathetic and easily one of the more likable protagonists amongst the assortment of psycho’s and general bastards clamouring for screen time. Rebecca Hall is an utter joy to watch, playing the emotionally fragile bank manager who unwittingly ends up in a relationship with one of the lovely men who recently robbed her bank and emotionally traumatized her. Blake Lively is good as the grimy, overly used and abused prostitute who just wants a better life for her daughter… oh god I think I’m tearing up.

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Worst. Stag night. Ever

Jon Hamm, Mad Men’s Don Draper, perfectly plays the slimy and oh-so unsympathetic Detective, desperately trying to catch and convict Doug Macreel (Ben Affleck) and his bank robbing posse. Mention should also go to Pete Postlethwaite as the ambiguously accented and repulsively creepy florist. However for me the true show kidnapping performance was Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner as the trigger happy best friend of Doug Macreel who’s movie you some how can predict from the moment he opens his mouth. Renner is a psychotic, time bomb and a cinematic “gem”(movie in joke). He not only makes you despise and fear his character but towards the end he also encourages the audience to sympathize with him.

However the film isn’t perfect. The story’s cliched and the father character is under used whilst the helicopter shots of Charlestown depict it as a pleasant and quaint neighborhood rather than the Boston version of Bagdad that Affleck has been trying so hard to portray. The ending is also painfully sentimental and a little contrived but really now I’m just unnecessarily nit picking through the luscious hair (yes I know that was gay) of one of the best films of the year. Affleck has not only redeemed himself of his previous atrocities but also established himself as a talented actor and all round skilled director. Suffice to say I can’t wait for his next film.

A message, a moral and kick-ass car chase what more could you want

8/10 stars

Written March 2010